Monday, April 18, 2011

Party Down

Co-created by Paul Rudd and Veronica Mars' Rob Thomas among others, Party Down is a pretty fantastic little comedy that didn't last nearly as long as it should have, which probably makes its twenty great episodes seem all the better. It's about a catering crew led by Ken Marino's Ron, staffed mostly by actors who are either trying to make it big or have already given up on that dream. Adam Scott is Henry, an old coworker of Ron's who's returned to tend the bar after quitting acting. Lizzy Caplan is Casey, a comedian/actor who ends up in a casual hook-up relationship with Henry. Martin Starr is Roman, a nerdy writer of "hard sci fi" who has his eyes on Casey. Ryan Hansen is Kyle, a dim-witted actor/model/musician who has a bickering friendship with Roman. Jane Lynch is Constance, an older former actress that shares a kinship with the similarly blond Kyle. She's replaced in the second season by Megan Mullally, an irritating-yet-likable divorced mother of a young aspiring actress. You see how I chained all the main characters together like that? Pretty good stuff.

What's sort of interesting about Party Down is how there isn't a single scene where the characters aren't working their jobs, with two qualified exceptions. They screw around all the time, but every episode takes place entirely at the event they're catering, as their personal lives and disagreements boil over and affect their work. The writers do a solid job of mixing together wacky catering hijinks with longer term character development, in a way that serves both while sacrificing neither. There's a certain level of sadness to most of the characters that is a central jumping off point for the humor, a dichotomy that you often find in the best TV comedies. Everybody's frustrated with their careers and their distant ambitions and their love lives, and it leads to some pretty entertaining explosions of emotion and resentments that are played out in pranks and sabotages.

It's also just a well-acted show, with the main cast doing a terrific job and surrounded by a veritable revolving door of recognizable comedic talents. It's Starz so they're allowed to get away with a lot, though some episodes are definitely dirtier than others, such as one centering on an orgy that never seems to really get going. the tension between Henry and Casey is the main focus of the show for the most part, though Ron's hilariously pathetic life gets a lot of attention too, and no main character ever really gets short shrift. I would have liked to have seen where they'd go with a third season this year, but the show does a pretty great job with the time it has and ended up closing on a solid moment of hope without getting too sweet about it. Maybe if it had a little more in the way of people with swords stabbing and screwing each other it could have lasted longer, but what it is still ended up being pretty special.

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